An Ankeny business park development plan that’s been in the works for the past seven years will begin to take shape this year in the southeastern corner of the city.

The project, known as Crosswinds Business Park, is situated on a roughly 400-acre tract of rolling farmland accessible from the Corporate Woods Drive interchange. Development of the site, a cooperative effort between the city and eight landowners, represents not just the next business park for Ankeny, but also the execution of a larger strategy to accelerate the creation of shovel-ready sites.

“We’re obviously on a great corridor with Interstate 35 and a great intersection with I-35 and I-80, so there will be people interested in investing in Ankeny,” said Tim Moerman, an assistant city manager. “What we need to do is make sure that businesses with all kinds of needs have a chance to develop in Ankeny.”

The city identified the development of Crosswinds as one of its top two priorities in a strategic plan that the City Council adopted in August 2010. The other top priority is developing the 36th Street interchange on Interstate 35, a project that is under way.

‘Square in the middle’

Commencement of Crosswinds begins at a pivotal time for site development efforts in both Greater Des Moines and the state. On a regional basis, the Capital Crossroads plan released last year calls for solidifying a technology corridor between Ames and Des Moines, which puts Ankeny in the cross hairs of that initiative. On a broader level, the Iowa Economic Development Authority is working to expand the Shovel Ready Iowa program, launched three years ago by the Iowa City Area Development Group, into a statewide program (see sidebar). Ankeny officials believe both initiatives provide opportunities for the city’s business park developments to attract more companies to the area.

During discussion of the project at a City Council meeting in February, Ankeny Mayor Steven Van Oort said Crosswinds could get considerable leverage from the Capital Crossroads biosciences corridor initiative. “Clearly, Ankeny is going to be square in the middle of that,” he told the council.

Based on conversations with Steve Zumbach, the chair of the Capital Corridor committee, and Gene Meyer, the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s president, Van Oort said approximately $1 million in advertising and branding will be invested in the corridor. “If we can be ahead of the curve, we will reap the advantages of upwards of $1 million in promotion,” he said. “So I think we have the opportunity to leverage this with a larger program.”

The Ankeny City Council in February approved a resolution to move forward with the Crosswinds development agreement and contracted with Grimes-based Civil Design Advantage LLC to provide engineering services for the project’s first phase. Those actions capped years of preparation.

Moerman, who began working for the city in 2005 as its economic development director, that year met with 16 property owners in the vicinity of the proposed business park. He found that half of the owners were interested in partnering with the city for development, while the other half decided they would pursue development on their own.

That former group “concluded that good planning adds value to their ground, and that joint planning adds more,” Moerman said. “If you think about developing 400 acres, it’s not going to happen in five or 10 years; it’s going to happen over several decades. And so you have to have a strong plan that can last several decades so you’ve got orderly growth within that area.”

Those early discussions with the landowners led to the development of a master plan for the area that the City Council approved in 2007, followed by the formation of a planned unit development (PUD) in 2008. Having the PUD in place eliminates the need for rezoning the land in the future, said Curtis Brown, Ankeny’s economic development director.

“Businesses value time and certainty in location decisions, and having the zoning in place both reduces time and provides a degree of certainty,” he said.

Risk to city?

Under the development agreement, the city will pay approximately $2.8 million toward the $4.2 million project, which includes a $1.4 million state transportation grant to have roads and utilities extended partially into the property from its north and south ends to open up approximately 120 acres initially for development. As the lots are sold by the landowners, they will reimburse the city approximately 75 percent of the amount they receive for the property. When each property is developed, the landowners will then pay the water and sewer connection fees to the city, which is how the city will recover its $1.4 million match to the state’s Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Infrastructure (RISE) grant.

Kent Tipping and his family are among eight landowners the city has worked with on the plan.

“We didn’t want to be developers, but through this process we’ve kind of become developers in a way,” said Tipping, whose family leases out about 62 acres of farmland in the future business park. “Once we get roads in there, I think we’ll see lots come up for sale. The city is doing a really nice job of marketing the project.”

Bid letting is anticipated by May, with work beginning in June; most of the construction should be completed by the end of the year, Moerman said.

In the past, the city has partnered with several private developers in business park ventures, among them LGI Business Park, Metro North I and II and Prairie Trail. In the case of Crosswinds, the city of Ankeny will front the infrastructure costs, not the landowners or a developer. That difference made the two newest council members question whether the city was taking on too much risk with the project.

“I don’t think the city should be acting as the developer,” said Councilman Jim McKenna, who voted against proceeding with the project. “My concern was that this became an uneven playing field for developers,” McKenna said. Additionally, he said the city risks not being paid back for the development costs for an extended number of years. Councilman Mark Holm voted against the park’s neighborhood (platting) plan and the engineering services agreement, but voted to proceed with the development agreement.

McKenna, a former city employee who worked for the Ankeny utilities department for 21 years, said he’s not anti-development, just opposed to the way the deal was structured. “I think it will be a great deal if it comes to fruition; that would be just great,” he said. “I don’t see it as a matter of being ‘in’ or ‘out’ on economic development; I see it as a matter of how we’re going to do it.”

Moerman acknowledged there is some risk to the city in fronting the infrastructure costs. However, he said, “One of the things we’ve found out is that the possibility of success is increased by having water, sewer and streets in place. So one of the opportunities we have as a community is speeding up the process by getting the sites ready. If you believe that having sites ready for development will increase their likelihood of sale and investment, then you minimize the risk you have of carrying the cost of construction.”